The Almighty Screenwriter

The blog posts this month are probably going to be short and sweet since I am now immersed in Script Frenzy.  Four pages a day seems so reasonable.  And then you skip a day and figure, “Hey, I’ll just write eight pages during my next session.”  But those eight pages don’t come as easily as the four pages did.  And soon you’re praying for that jolt of inspiration that gives you a twelve-page session.  I’m just trying to avoid being faced with forty pages left to go when the end of April rolls around, especially since I have travel coming up (including a visit back to Madison for the Wisconsin Film Festival) that will further challenge my writing schedule.  Of course, I plan to make full use of the flying time.  Nothing like being sequestered thirty-thousand feet in the air to help you stay focused on your script. (As long as I don’t succumb to the flight’s on-board wireless option.  No “Words with Friends” for me!)

One thing I’ve been catching up on lately for writerly motivation are the SCRIPTNOTES Podcasts offered by John August and Craig Mazin.   John and Craig are extremely successful screenwriters who started a weekly podcast that offers tips and advice on the writing process.  But their guidance isn’t simply limited to creative quandaries like getting through the slog known as Act Two or figuring out the “theme” of your script; they also tackle the practicalities of being a working screenwriter, covering topics such as residuals, when to incorporate, and credit arbitration.  I can’t recommend these half-hour podcasts enough to my writer brethren out there.  You can download them from iTunes.

A recent podcast I listened to provided a particularly helpful dose of inspirational fuel as I move forward with this new script.  The subject tackled the “Central Dramatic Argument/Question” driving your script, which can also be tied into theme.  A lot of books and writing teachers pound in the necessity of establishing a theme when you first launch your screenplay.  However, John August expressed ambivalence about locking oneself into a central theme – it’s just not the way he approaches his work.  As a writer who sometimes struggles with committing to a theme in my own projects, I appreciate John’s refreshing perspective.  And, yet, I do think that I need to have that underlying foundation on which to build the motivations and actions within a script.

Craig tackles theme more like a question – hence the “central dramatic argument” (another familiar staple in various screenwriting schools of thought).  He made an analogy that really resonated with me – it was one of those “a-ha” moments that I know will influence my writing from this point forward.  Craig equated the screenwriter to God (not a bad start, eh?) and said that our script’s protagonist  is Job.  As God, we are going to test Job and make things miserable for him…really miserable.  But, ultimately, Job needs this bad thing to happen in his life so that things will change for him.

In general, successful and memorable films show a character going through a significant event in his or her life that brings about growth and evolution. (And not always for the better, but maybe for a deeper, philosophical understanding.)  I started thinking about my scripts and asking myself why my characters need a certain event (aka: the “inciting incident”) to happen at the time it happens?  Why do Bud and Jessica need their mother’s bones to be discovered twenty years after she first disappeared?  Why does Wendy need a creature to start terrorizing her small town when it does?  Why does Molly need to meltdown to the point of losing her job and her boyfriend?  I realized that in answering these questions I was honing in on the personal growth these characters experience and the life lessons gained from the change they struggle through – lessons acheived both by the characters and, if I’ve done my job well, by the audience.

THANKS for all the great advice, John and Craig!

(Guess this post isn’t exactly short and sweet, huh?  Which means I really need to get back to Script Frenzy!)


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